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A crucial step forward thanks to drones

We buy drones to have fun, to make a cool video of our trip or just an interesting shot. But drones also fulfil another very important role. They facilitate the search for missing persons affected by natural disasters and make it possible to create an up-to-date map of the area.


Wiktoria Podhorska-Piotrowska



Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are flying devices that can be controlled remotely or automatically. They come in different sizes and with different lenses, but they also play a huge role in humanitarian operations.



Drones in action


During humanitarian operations, drones make it possible to map crisis areas, i.e. to determine the location and distance between points in space. They can create a map of the area very quickly. Moreover, drones relieve people who would not be able to do it with such accuracy.



But why does a humanitarian aid organisation need terrain mapping? The answer is simple. During disasters or natural disasters, ground maps are no longer up to date. For example, in the event of an earthquake, houses, buildings, trees are destroyed, completely changing the area. In such cases, it is necessary to know the current infrastructure to be able to set out to help people in need. What's more, drones make it easier to locate victims, for example under a collapsed building, and reach them faster.



How do they do it?


A drone is made up of rotors, wings, a gimbal - or stabilising stick, and a camera. Depending on the settings, the flying devices can take from a few to even a dozen pictures per second! They work by creating a map with marked points in special software. The drone then follows the destined trajectory, taking photos at the same time.




When the photos are combined, a sort of grid is created. Then, from this grid, the software creates a 3D model of the terrain, which can be superimposed on the existing map. In this way, we can observe some changes in the area.



Humanitarian action before drones


Previously, humanitarian organisations had to use satellite images or ordinary cartographic maps during rescue operations. This required more time and money. Interestingly, animal skills were also used. For example in Nepal, falcons together with dogs located persons living in a house that had been destroyed.



- Help.NGO closely relies on drones during humanitarian actions - says Krzysztof Szajner from Help.NGO Poland. - We can safely say that this is a very innovative activity, because not many organisations deal with mapping on a larger scale yet. We want to be the NGO that - also thanks to new technologies - will be able to respond to various problems on different continents. We are constantly trying to convince both the services and other organisations that this form of aid can be more effective and cheaper.


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